How do we deal with very scary claims about the origins of Monotheism and God?

I’ve heard a lot about the origins of God and monotheism, as it being a belief that Israelites found and adopted and kind of just ran with. I consider this very scary. This is the first I’ve ever run into this. What to do about it?

Please see summary.

The ancient Jews were not strictly monotheistic, at least not to begin with. They acknowledged that other gods existed, but followed only Yahweh. It isn’t until later that they insisted on Yahweh being the only God.

But in any case, they became aware of God and formed a relationship with him over time. And most of us have come to also know him through this Judeo-Christian tradition and the writings and movements that came out of it.

But I don’t think I am understanding what about this is scary. God revealed himself to his people, and it was significant to them. Significant enough that they followed him and built on the tradition. What are your concerns?

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Is this scary because it is challenging the foundations of your worldview? Is it making you ask questions you never asked before? Maybe its about time. I believe God wants us to ask questions and when people get too satisfied and hidebound, He likes to shake them up. It doesn’t have to lead to a rejection of Christianity, though that is a possibility. And I am not so sure that is a bad thing because I have doubts that any Christianity is better than no Christianity. I am particularly reminded of what Jesus said about the Pharisees, which He did not say about the Gentiles. I think we have to periodically check why we believe what we believe, and ask ourselves what is really important. Hopefully it will improve your faith instead of destroying it, but I don’t think you can avoid it. At the very least, its time to go deeper into understanding what this God and Christianity stuff is really all about. Stick around here for a while reading what people have to say and maybe it will help.

History tells different stories to different people largely because the choice of what are the significant events is a rather subjective judgment. So Smith has pieced together his own narrative based on the things he sees uncovered. Doesn’t bother me because I know just how thin the evidence upon which he piles his speculations - a house of cards, frankly.

The Bible story places more significance in those working against the Canaanite religion of Baal, and the practice of child sacrifice only goes to show why God asked the Israelites to deal with them so ruthlessly.

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Considering how the name YHWH very likely originally meant ‘impassioned’ in Arabic. I think its very likely that YHWH was originally worshipped alone, polytheism is a later corruption of YHWH worship.

There are also good philosophical arguments for monotheism

Well, because it might lead me to the very scary conclusion that humans just “made up” God, and early Israelites were influenced by Caananite beliefs and just chose to believe the one they liked the most.

That’s a warranted concern. I think there is also warrant to soften our fear of some possibilities that might seem (to some) to lead in that direction. For example, while a god that exists only in our heads cannot be said to be “True God” at all (much less a Creator of everything, including us), it is still true that attributes of God or facts about God do exist in our heads, and might be “made up by us”, and in any case are certainly influenced by our surrounding environs and cultures (our “Caananites” if you will). So the real question then isn’t: “Did this information plop down directly from on high, rather than the putatively more suspicious origins of other cultures or even just from our own heads?” I suggest the question really should be: “Is it true?” as well as “Is this inspired of the Spirit - which works in our heads, our hearts, our communities, and even in our own [often pagan!] and surrounding cultures?”

Given God’s practice of interacting with all of creation, ultimately manifesting itself as the incarnation, it should neither surprise nor horrify us to observe, find, and treasure (or modify as necessary) what we are bequeathed from all those varied sources.

What is the basis of this statement?

From my understanding this seems unlikely and sounds like Muslim propaganda.

YHWH the sacred Name of GOD comes from a rare basic form of “to be.” YHWH identified Godself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM.” Hebrew does not normally use a word for “being.” Arabic is a modern language, not in existence in the time of Moses.

The Jews do not pronounce the Holy Name of YHWH, but instead use the word LORD. The Quran at times uses the word Lord for Allah without appearing to recognize that Biblically Lord means YHWH.

Moses was close to his father, Jethro, “the priest of Midian,” who did not worship YHWH.

The good philosophical arguments for monotheism do not necessarily result in good arguments for YHWH.

While Israel most likely wasn’t the first people group to make a monotheistic religion, that doesn’t disprove the idea of the LORD being the one true God. While other cultures may of worshipped one single deity (look at Akhenaten who was a monotheistic pharaoh who worshipped one single god) What the difference is that the Hebrews came into contact with the one true God, the LORD God Almighty, Yahweh. I suggest if you ever can read the book by Richard S. Hess. Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey. This book helped me understand a lot of the development of the Hebrew religion from both a secular and Biblical point of view.

Well the line between making up God and being communicated to by God is a very thin line which vanishes in a scientific approach to things. I think you have to accept the basic reality that the skeptic will always be able to dismiss the facts religion bases its worldview on as nothing more than coincidence and imagination.

Of course they were… it is one of the basic plot conflicts in the Biblical narrative, with God always getting angry with the Israelites because they have been influenced by the Caananites.

One of the biases in historical and scientific treatments of mankind is that it is always going to focus on what most people are doing. The rare person who stands against the tide will always be insignificant unless he succeeds in changing things. But this is not the religious or Biblical view, where the single individual standing against the rest of humanity can be considered the most important thing… even when he fails to change anything.

You really don’t know what your talking about:

Please apologise

This was taught as part of the Introduction to the Old Testament class at Yale.
Many scholars have argued that the Biblical accounts in Genesis arose from similar stories from other Ancient Near East (ANE) religions. Cuneiform tablets discovered in Mesopotamia dated more than a thousand years before recovered Biblical texts have stories of Ziusudra, or in some versions Utnapishtim who survives a great flood by building an ark on the instruction of a deity, the flood destroys all life, and he sends out birds to scout out the dry land, and so on. So with parallels like these, it was argued that the religion of the Israelites was not so different from the religions of their polytheistic or pagan neighbors. They also had a creation story, they had a flood story, they did animal sacrifices and they observed purity taboos. The Bible simply documented another ANE religion and they differed from their neighbors only over the number of gods they worshiped: one or many.

One scholar, Yehezkel Kaufmann, argued that there was a radical break between the Bible and other ANE religions, and that the Bible could not have arisen from these ancient texts. He pointed out that the religions were distinctly different at their cores when describe the nature and the character of God.

In all polytheistic religions, the gods are governed by a metadivine realm. The gods have their own myths about how they came into existence (born or created), they have a life span and they die. Individual gods exhibit both good and bad characteristics. There is no notion of a supreme or divine will. The worship of gods is tied into the worship of nature. Power is materially conceived through the metadivine realm. Magic is possible, and it is through magic that humans can also tap into the metadivine realm. By tapping into the metadivine realm, human can obtain power, even to the point of having some control over the gods. Evil is a metaphysical reality and salvation may be obtained from magic or gnosticism.

The God of the Bible is extremely different. God transcends nature, He is ageless, timeless and is not governed by a metadivine realm. God is only good. Evil comes from a clash of humans and God, it is demystified. There is a supreme law, the Will of God. God’s nature is revealed more through historical events and interaction with man than from nature.

Therefore, this radical break on the very nature of God is evidence that these key concepts of God could not have come from any ANE religion.

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I have always been puzzled by the popularity of super hero movies. They are popular everywhere I have traveled, including Europe and Asia. During my study, I have found a striking similarity between super hero movies and polytheistic religions. Power is obtained through the metadivine realm, often heavily coated in layers of pseudoscience. Humans can tap into the metadivine realm through magic to control or limit the powers of the super heroes, such as the use of kryptonite to control Superman.

The Force in the Star Wars movies is also very similar. It is both good and bad, power is achieved by tapping into a metadivine realm.

Looking at ancient polytheistic religions and modern day intrigue with superheroes, I don’t believe we are superior to these ancient peoples and their uncivilized ways. The primary differences between our polytheistic temples of worship and theirs is that now we have much better snack bars and seats that recline.

@Reggie_O_Donoghue, thank you for the information.

If God said that YHWH means I AM WHO I AM, who are we to deny this.

I would not say that the Bible is never wrong, and the relationship between Moses and Jethro is very interesting as I indicated above, but the research quoted is still opinion and speculation, which cannot overrule the clear meaning of the Bible.

If God said YHWH means I AM WHO I AM, that is what it means. You do not owe me an apology, but maybe you owe YHWH one.

I always thought that another valid hypothesis is that the similarity of these stories could come from the fact that they are all derived from the same historical events, and then it is only a question of which is the more accurate account… if that is even a meaningful question, since it may be more a matter of what God wants us to learn from these events. Historical accuracy may not be such an important question precisely because of the inherent bias I have already mention to be a part of the study of history.


It is a scary thought. However, the Bible itself supports the emergence of monotheism from polytheism. I think that is really the primary message of Genesi1 (and why the sun and moon are are called greater and lesser lights so as not to use their pagan god names.). Perhaps also when Moses asked ar the burning bush, “and who did you say you are?” And in the 10 commandments where we are told to put no other gods before him. You mean it is OK so long as they are behind God?
So, ultimately it comes down to faith.

The Bible also says God’s name is ‘jealous’. Though we try not to take the Bible literally here, in light of the cognates I have given, I find it very likely that Exodus 34:14 meant it literally.

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If God’s name was literally “Jealous” then He would have given that name to Moses when Moses asked. What is the context? God demands that they wipe out the religion of the Canaanites, and I believe we have already talked about why God would do that. He absolutely did not want them following the ways of that religion.

What makes you think the writer of exodus 3 would have been aware of the etymology?

What etymology? I only see poetry.

The etymology of my name is “who is like God.” Is that supposed to signify something?

To be sure the God of the Hebrews expected exclusive devotion, and for good reason. There is only one God.

That’s a false equivalence considering how you were not the original person with the name Mikha’el.